Stephen King may no longer be able to scare readers like he scared them a decade or two ago. It just doesn’t work that way anymore. The truth is that the real world is now scarier than the horrors that anyone writing traditional horror fiction can match. Who needs vampire hoards on the prowl to scare them when we have Islamist militants by the thousands beheading innocents or burning them alive inside cages? Who needs haunted hotels, or pets and people rising from the grave, to scare them when every week we see pictures of the latest bombings that have blown people to bloody bits in the streets as they went about their daily business? No, the fact, sad as it may be, is that novels like King’s Revival are almost a welcome relief from today’s real world.
That said, Revival is everything a reader has come to expect in a Stephen King novel. It is a coming-of-age story in which evil intrudes on our narrator’s life even before he has outgrown playing in the dirt with his army of toy soldiers. King does children, especially boys, very well, and the young characters in Revival are probably the best thing about the book. King gets into these young heads to a depth that reminds readers that there are things happening in there to which the adults around them will remain forever oblivious.
Little Jamie senses that there is something special about the young preacher who comes to town to take over the pulpit in his family’s church. There seems to be some kind of weird connection between the two of them that the preacher feels just as strongly as Jamie, maybe even stronger than Jamie feels it. And when the preacher leaves town, not too many months later, both of them shed a few tears during what they believe to be their final goodbyes. But they were right about there being a special connection between them, because one day they will meet again - and when they do, things will get ugly, very ugly.
At just over 400 pages, Revival is probably a longer book than it should have been, but that is not all that unusual for a Stephen King novel. The first segment of the book, the set-up, is Jamie’s story, one in which the reader follows the narrator from child to young adult, a portion of life that King is especially adept at describing and making real. The book’s second segment (the overlong part) is not kind to Jamie. Jamie, who drifts into the desperate lifestyle of a professional musician barely hanging on, simply does not handle adulthood well. And even though a chance meeting with the reverend probably saves Jamie’s life, his real troubles are just beginning because, in the third section of the book (the shortest of the three), Jamie learns that reconnecting with this man just might be the worst thing that ever happened to him.
The inside cover of Revival promises the “most terrifying conclusion” of a Stephen King novel ever. Depressing, maybe…but terrifying? Not if you watch the nightly newscasts.